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An Eclectic Digest of Science, Art and Literature



Modified: 2017-07-23T19:37:54Z

 



In "Arbitrary Stupid Goal", Conjuring a Lost New York City

2017-07-23T19:37:54Z

Julia Felsenthal in Vogue: “There are roughly three New Yorks,” E.B. White once wrote. “There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born here, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size and...Julia Felsenthal in Vogue: “There are roughly three New Yorks,” E.B. White once wrote. “There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born here, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size and its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter—the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is the New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something.” For White, that last New York, “the city of final destination, the city that is a goal,” was the greatest of all. The illustrator, graphic designer, cook, writer, and born-and-bred New Yorker Tamara Shopsin quotes this passage—drawn from White’s essay Here is New York—in her new memoir, Arbitrary Stupid Goal. Her book, among many other things, traces its author’s unconventional childhood, growing up in a one-bedroom apartment on Morton Street with four siblings and her parents, Kenny and Eve Shopsin, the eccentric proprietors of their eponymous, legendarily idiosyncratic West Village grocery-store-turned-eatery. (If you’re wondering about logistics, Shopsin writes that she slept in a bookshelf.) Their business, Shopsin’s, or for those in the know, “The Store,” was housed for roughly three decades in a storefront on the corner of Bedford and Morton. In 2002, forced out by rapidly rising rents, Shopsin’s moved a couple blocks over to Carmine Street; then, a few years later, the restaurant moved again to its current home in Essex Market on the Lower East Side. Eve passed away in the mid-aughts. Kenny, The Store’s burly, famously bellicose chef, still mans the kitchen with his son Zack. White’s essay, writes Shopsin in her memoir, is “written with so much love and grace its words become fact.” Still, she quibbles with his conclusion. “The third New Yorker, the non-native, takes a thing for granted too,” she asserts. “The third New Yorker knows they can live somewhere else. They have done it once, deep down if need be they can do it again.” More here. [...]



Quantum teleportation is even weirder than you think

2017-07-23T19:33:22Z

Philip Ball in Nature: A BBC headline last week, ‘First object teleported to Earth’s orbit’, has to be one of the most fantastical you’ll see this year. For once, it seems the future that science fiction promised has arrived! Or...Philip Ball in Nature: A BBC headline last week, ‘First object teleported to Earth’s orbit’, has to be one of the most fantastical you’ll see this year. For once, it seems the future that science fiction promised has arrived! Or has it? The article was talking about reports by Chinese scientists that they had transmitted the quantum state of a photon on Earth to another photon on a satellite in low Earth orbit, some 1,400 kilometres away1. That kind of transmission — first demonstrated in a laboratory 20 years ago2 — is known as quantum teleportation. It’s a label that can mislead the unwary, as the BBC headline demonstrates. A write-up of the work in Discover reports that the scientists “have successfully transmitted quantum entangled particles” — only to clarify, confusingly, that “unlike science fiction teleportation devices, nothing physical is being transported”. But wait: didn’t someone once say information is physical? That was physicist Rolf Landauer3, a pioneer of information theory. So if you send nothing physical, how can you transmit anything at all from A to B? This is one of the deep issues that quantum physicists and philosophers still argue about. We can debate whether ‘quantum teleportation’ as a term is a catchy way of conveying a scientific idea, or a misleading bit of hype. But the real question — what, exactly, is transmitted during quantum teleportation, and how — touches on issues much more profound. More here. [...]



To Kolkata, From Baghdadi Jews, With Love

2017-07-23T19:25:57Z

Jael Silliman in The Wire: Crisp on the outside, soft inside, the golden brown, whole fried potatoes were brought piping hot to the dining table. My father, David, urged his guests to abandon even trying to tackle these “jumping potatoes”...Jael Silliman in The Wire: Crisp on the outside, soft inside, the golden brown, whole fried potatoes were brought piping hot to the dining table. My father, David, urged his guests to abandon even trying to tackle these “jumping potatoes” with their forks and knives. “Just sink your teeth in them!” He had remarked cheerfully. We did and enjoyed the crackle in our mouths that slowly yielded to the soft, oozing centre melting on our tongues. Aloo makallah was definitely the star attraction of Baghdadi Jewish meals and a Calcutta specialty. My father’s ancestor, Shalome Obadiah Ha Cohen, was the first Jew to come from Aleppo, Syria in the late eighteenth for trade in Calcutta and make it his home. Yet, our Middle Eastern community is loosely called ‘Baghdadi’ as we followed the liturgy of Baghdad, a centre of Jewish learning. We Baghdadis flourished in the port cities of ‘Jewish Asia’ that stretched from Baghdad to Shanghai. In Karachi, Bombay, Calcutta, Rangoon, Singapore, Penang, Djakarta, Hong Kong and Shanghai, small enclaves of Jews relied upon one another for religious, financial and social support. Marriages, commercial news, business and family connections welded us into a powerful economic and cultural presence in the East. In Calcutta, the second city of Empire, we adapted to our new home and shifted from being Judaeo-Arabic to Judaeo-British in our language, as well as shifted in terms of dress and cultural orientation. We lived among Anglo Indian, Parsis, Armenians, Chinese as well as Hindus and Muslims. More here. [...]



When Cold War philosophy tied rational choice theory to scientific method, it embedded the free-market mindset in US society

2017-07-23T19:14:27Z

John McCumber in Aeon: The chancellor of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) was worried. It was May 1954, and UCLA had been independent of Berkeley for just two years. Now its Office of Public Information had learned that...John McCumber in Aeon: The chancellor of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) was worried. It was May 1954, and UCLA had been independent of Berkeley for just two years. Now its Office of Public Information had learned that the Hearst-owned Los Angeles Examiner was preparing one or more articles on communist infiltration at the university. The news was hardly surprising. UCLA, sometimes called the ‘little Red schoolhouse in Westwood’, was considered to be a prime example of communist infiltration of universities in the United States; an article in The Saturday Evening Post in October 1950 had identified it as providing ‘a case history of what has been done at many schools’. The chancellor, Raymond B Allen, scheduled an interview with a ‘Mr Carrington’ – apparently Richard A Carrington, the paper’s publisher – and solicited some talking points from Andrew Hamilton of the Information Office. They included the following: ‘Through the cooperation of our police department, our faculty and our student body, we have always defeated such [subversive] attempts. We have done this quietly and without fanfare – but most effectively.’ Whether Allen actually used these words or not, his strategy worked. Scribbled on Hamilton’s talking points, in Allen’s handwriting, are the jubilant words ‘All is OK – will tell you.’ Allen’s victory ultimately did him little good. Unlike other UCLA administrators, he is nowhere commemorated on the Westwood campus, having suddenly left office in 1959, after seven years in his post, just ahead of a football scandal. The fact remains that he was UCLA’s first chancellor, the premier academic Red hunter of the Joseph McCarthy era – and one of the most important US philosophers of the mid-20th century. More here. [...]



Usain Bolt is the fastest sprinter ever in spite of — or because of? — an uneven stride that upends conventional wisdom

2017-07-23T19:01:30Z

Jere Longman in the New York Times: Usain Bolt of Jamaica appeared on a video screen in a white singlet and black tights, sprinting in slow motion through the final half of a 100-meter race. Each stride covered nine feet,...Jere Longman in the New York Times: Usain Bolt of Jamaica appeared on a video screen in a white singlet and black tights, sprinting in slow motion through the final half of a 100-meter race. Each stride covered nine feet, his upper body moving up and down almost imperceptibly, his feet striking the track and rising so rapidly that his heels did not touch the ground. Bolt is the fastest sprinter in history, the world-record holder at 100 and 200 meters and the only person to win both events at three Olympics. Yet as he approaches his 31st birthday and retirement this summer, scientists are still trying to fully understand how Bolt achieved his unprecedented speed. Last month, researchers here at Southern Methodist University, among the leading experts on the biomechanics of sprinting, said they found something unexpected during video examination of Bolt’s stride: His right leg appears to strike the track with about 13 percent more peak force than his left leg. And with each stride, his left leg remains on the ground about 14 percent longer than his right leg. This runs counter to conventional wisdom, based on limited science, that an uneven stride tends to slow a runner down. More here. [...]



On Being Smaller

2017-07-23T12:31:09Z

Colin Gillis in Avidly: The other day, as I was returning empty trash cans from the curb in front of our apartment building, the older man who owns the home across the street from my apartment waved to me. “Hi!...Colin Gillis in Avidly: The other day, as I was returning empty trash cans from the curb in front of our apartment building, the older man who owns the home across the street from my apartment waved to me. “Hi! I don’t think we’ve met.” In fact, we had met, over five years before, when my wife and I first moved in to our apartment, and we had regularly greeted each other since then, or, at least, we had until recently. In the past six months, my appearance has changed dramatically. I lost a lot of weight, almost 100 pounds. After I explained what had happened to my neighbor, he shouted, “Holy shit!” several times in a row. In a way, my neighbor’s introduction was appropriate. This radical change in appearance has made me feel like a new person. My new body can do many things that the old one couldn’t, and my awareness of its expanded capacities imbues the future with possibility. I want to run a marathon, climb mountains, learn to dance—and, for the first time, my body is not an impediment to doing so. But the change isn’t just physical. Losing so much weight means that the world treats me differently in fundamental ways. In addition to physical mass, I am also unburdened from the psychological weight of stigma. As my body changed, its meaning changed with it—for other people and for me. The world wants my happiness about this transformation to be pure. People who comment on my new appearance tend to describe it with metaphors of evolution or conversion, endowing the adipose tissue I used to carry on my body with moral as well as physiological significance. It seems that my weight was, for many, the physical symptom of a lack of virtue as well as a clear and present danger to my health. This was something that I always knew on an abstract level. Nobody ever accused me of a lack of virtue, the sense of failure, to my face. Now that I’m relatively thin, that’s changed. At my last annual physical, my doctor said, as he was examining my almost naked body, “Your wife must love the new you!” This was not the first time I had considered what effect, if any, the physical transformations wrought by weight loss and vigorous exercise had on my life partner’s perception of me, but it was certainly the first time someone else had baldly stated that she probably found me more attractive now. “She tells me she likes the new me, but she also insists that she liked the old me, too,” I replied, honestly. And added, also honestly, “Of course, one wonders.” ...But there was also something attractive and deeply pleasurable about being—and living—large, about cultivating huge appetites and satisfying them with abandon. Eating piles of calorie rich food and guzzling it down with wine is tremendously fun, and I look back on occasions when I did that with fondness, a hint of jealousy, and with only the slightest regret. And my large body was so powerful! I trained until I could deadlift 420 pounds. The rush of excitement doing this gave me, the sense of accomplishment, the physical pleasure of muscles flush with blood, was a palpable sense of strength that I carried with me, in body and in mind. Removing over thirty percent of my total body mass has entailed losses of pleasures that I once associated with being huge and that remain important for me. These are more than just the pleasures of regular excess in food and drink. I am physically smaller now and less strong than I once was. I may never gain back all of my old strength. More here.   [...]



How Breitbart Media's Disinformation Created the Paranoid, Fact-Averse Nation That Elected Trump

2017-07-23T12:23:53Z

Steven Rosenfeld in AlterNet: Right-wing media evolved into a hall of mirrors in 2016, when Breitbart displaced Fox News as the key agenda-setting and attack-leading epicenter of a disinformation-filled, paranoid ecosystem promoting Donald Trump and his pro-white America agenda. Breitbart...Steven Rosenfeld in AlterNet: Right-wing media evolved into a hall of mirrors in 2016, when Breitbart displaced Fox News as the key agenda-setting and attack-leading epicenter of a disinformation-filled, paranoid ecosystem promoting Donald Trump and his pro-white America agenda. Breitbart not only led the right’s obsessive, hostile focus on immigrants, it was also the first to attack professional reporting such as the New York Times and Washington Post. Breitbart's disruptive template fueled the political and information universe we now inhabit, where the right dismisses facts and embraces fantasies. There is no corollary dynamic on the left or among pro-Clinton audiences in 2016. The left's news sources, media consumption and patterns of social media-sharing are more open-minded and fact-based and less insular and aggressive. Still, Breitbart’s obsessive focus on fabricating and hyping scandals involving Hillary Clinton (and Jeb Bush early in the primary season) pushed mainstream media to disproportionately cover its agenda. These observations are among the takeaways of a major study from Columbia Journalism Review that analyzed 1.25 million stories published online between April 2015 and Election Day 2016. While the study affirmed what many analysts have long perceived—that right-wing media and those who consume it inhabit a paranoid and dark parallel universe—it also documented shifts in the right’s media ecosystem; namely, Breitbart supplanting Fox News as the leading purveyor of extreme disinformation. “A right-wing media network anchored around Breitbart [has] developed as a distinct and insulated media system, using social media as a backbone to transmit a hyper-partisan perspective to the world,” CJR wrote. “This pro-Trump media sphere appears to have not only successfully set the agenda for the conservative media sphere, but also strongly influenced the broader media agenda, in particular coverage of Hillary Clinton.” The CJR report said Americans’ media consuming habits are “asymmetric,” meaning those on the left—progressives and Democrats—rely on more diverse outlets and content, compared to the right. More here. [...]



detroit: league of revolutionary black workers

2017-07-23T11:09:00Z

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george romero (1940 - 2017)

2017-07-23T11:05:00Z

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ray phiri (1947 - 2017)

2017-07-23T10:59:00Z

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On sex and husbands

2017-07-22T22:59:18Z

Jesse Baron at Bookforum: By contrast, the most compelling books about monogamy are written after the fact by a surviving partner once the story has sorted itself out. If we want to learn about marriage, we turn here. Donald Hall’s...Jesse Baron at Bookforum: By contrast, the most compelling books about monogamy are written after the fact by a surviving partner once the story has sorted itself out. If we want to learn about marriage, we turn here. Donald Hall’s accounts of life with Jane Kenyon before her illness, for example, provide a glimpse of the pleasures of the quotidian, walking around New Hampshire in the summer reading each other’s poems. They continued reading each other even as she was dying, when he recited a draft of his elegy for her. (She said, “You’ve got it.”) Hall’s marriage offers a cautionary tale about believing you know your story before it concludes. Kenyon had spent the early part of their life together as the lesser poet, as “Donald Hall’s wife.” Then the story adjusted, as she became a known quantity with poetry in the New Yorker. Finally, one did not speak of Hall without speaking of Kenyon. That should have been the story, but the Aristotelian revelation was yet to come. Kenyon died at age forty-seven. Hall, twenty years older, should by rights have gone first. Phyllis Rose, in her underrated study Parallel Lives, recounts a similar reversal. For years, Jane Carlyle played the role of “heroic housewife in the service of exasperating genius,” as Thomas produced his biography of Frederick the Great and bitched about the neighbors’ roosters. more here. [...]



centenary of a Darwin-challenging classic

2017-07-22T22:05:44Z

Steven Rose at The Guardian: Asked to name the most significant book about biology ever written in English, most biologists would opt for Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. How about the second most significant book? After 1917, when... Steven Rose at The Guardian: Asked to name the most significant book about biology ever written in English, most biologists would opt for Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. How about the second most significant book? After 1917, when it was published, the answer would unhesitatingly have been D’Arcy Thompson’s On Growth and Form. Eclipsed since the 1950s by the domination of DNA, its time may have come round once more. This year’s centenary was celebrated in editorials, a clutch of abridged versions and now a facsimile edition of the original. Thompson, born in 1860, was a professor of natural history, first at Dundee and then at St Andrews, for an astonishing 63 years. But he was also a distinguished classicist and a powerful mathematician. The Nobel prize-winning immunologist Peter Medawar, himself no mean stylist, described him as “an aristocrat of learning whose intellectual endowments are not likely ever again to be combined within one man”. On Growth and Form, Medawar believed, is “beyond comparison the finest work of literature in all the annals of science that have been recorded in the English tongue”. To understand the significance of the book, we need to think back to the days when biology – natural history – was the study of living creatures, seen not just as assemblies of molecules, or passive vehicles at the mercy of their DNA, but as wondrous beings, often beautiful in their colour, shape and habits. How could such multitudinous forms arise?   more here. [...]



nadar: the man behind the camera

2017-07-22T22:02:33Z

Michael Dirda at The Washington Post: “The Great Nadar” lacks the obvious commercial appeal of Begley’s previous biography, a capacious, revealing life of the novelist John Updike, so that it comes across as a labor of love. Yet the word...Michael Dirda at The Washington Post: “The Great Nadar” lacks the obvious commercial appeal of Begley’s previous biography, a capacious, revealing life of the novelist John Updike, so that it comes across as a labor of love. Yet the word “labor” hardly characterizes the suavity, swiftness and economy of its text. The book is a pleasure to read, though one could almost buy it just for the pictures. Born in 1820, Gaspard-Félix Tournachon adopted “Nadar” as a nom de plume when he and his pals were struggling young writers and painters. Henry Murger would depict their hardscrabble existence in the novel “Scènes de la Vie de Bohème” (which later provided the plot for Puccini’s opera, “La Bohème”). According to Nadar’s friend Charles Bataille they lived in a dubious quarter largely populated by the kind of women who “were likely to lead you quickly and directly to the definitive goal of all human experience.” Nadar briefly enjoyed the intimate companionship of Haitian-born Jeanne Duval, who later became Baudelaire’s mistress (and the subject of some of his greatest poems). Another of Nadar’s close friends, the poet Nerval, would walk his pet lobster in the gardens of the Palais-Royal, using a length of blue-silk ribbon as a leash. Nerval said he kept the crustacean as a pet because it did not make noise and because it knew the secrets of the deep. more here. [...]



Stop Telling Students Free Speech Is Traumatizing Them

2017-07-22T17:56:29Z

Jesse Singal in New York Magazine: One fairly common idea that pops up again and again during the endless national conversation about college campuses, free speech, and political correctness is the notion that certain forms of speech do such psychological...Jesse Singal in New York Magazine: One fairly common idea that pops up again and again during the endless national conversation about college campuses, free speech, and political correctness is the notion that certain forms of speech do such psychological harm to students that administrators have an obligation to eradicate them — or, failing that, that students have an obligation to step in and do so themselves (as has happened during recent, high-profile episodes involving Charles Murray and Milo Yiannopoulos, which turned violent). Such claims of harm — often summed up as “speech is violence” — aren’t typically invoked in response to actual Nazis, or anything like that. Rather, they are used to argue against allowing speakers like Murray and Yiannopoulos — who, for better or worse, do fit in the conservative mainstream — or even significantly more moderate ones like Emily Yoffe, who has expressed skepticism about certain claims pertaining to the prevalence of sexual assault on campus. In one instance students successfully canceled a showing of American Sniper by arguing the film’s ostensible Islamophobia would make “students feel unsafe and unwelcome” — though the screening was later uncanceled. Now, given the fog of culture war that has descended on this subject and the tendency of opportunistic (mostly) conservative outlets to hype these kinds of events, it isn’t clear how common they actually are — people often forget the polls suggesting that college students, broadly speaking, tend to hold pro-free-speech views. But either way, it is hard to take seriously the idea that an American Sniper showing or an Emily Yoffe appearance, or even a Yiannopoulos talk, is so potentially psychologically harmful that established norms about free expression — which protect both College Republicans and Palestinian students advocating on behalf of their people — should be tossed out the window. More here. [...]



Cat mesmerized by optical illusion

2017-07-22T17:50:08Z

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In My Head I Carry My Own Zoo: the art of John Digby’s collages

2017-07-22T17:43:39Z

Karen Holmberg in Independent: A petition appears in my inbox without salutation, preamble, or signature: END CRUELTY TO MOTHS! Each year millions of moths are painfully deprived of their testicles for the making of MOTH BALLS... I recall the moment...Karen Holmberg in Independent: A petition appears in my inbox without salutation, preamble, or signature: END CRUELTY TO MOTHS!Each year millions of moths are painfully deprived of their testicles for the making of MOTH BALLS... I recall the moment weeks before in John Digby’s studio when I’d asked why I had found so many collages in the shape of butterflies, but none in the shape of moths. My twelve-year-old daughter dissolves in helpless hilarity when I read the message aloud to her; she begs to hear it again and again. It’s a silly joke, of course. But there’s something serious to it as well. Tomfoolery fuels the engine of Digby’s artistic imagination; puns, literalising, and other forms of harmless absurdity create the spark of astonishment and surprise necessary to transform our perception of the world – and decenter us from its midst. Like Gerard Manley Hopkins, who defined the human being as “Jack, joke, poor potsherd, patch, matchwood, immortal diamond”, Digby would describe the human being as (at best) a breathing motley of the silly and refined, the perishable and the permanent. His art reflects this variousness. The collages, made from engraved illustrations found in damaged 19th century books, preserve what is essentially fragile, using archival practices to arrest deterioration. His art extends the life of these fragments by tugging them back into the modern moment and re-illuminating their beauty. Often, his art fuses the seemingly incompatible – the grotesque and the delicate, the violent and the peaceable, the whimsical and the serious, the earthy and the ethereal – yet he always achieves a luminous integrity. He embeds yoked oxen like organs within a fish’s abdomen; a Berber flute player crouches in the dust opposite a goat who perches atop towers of sticks, the figures perfectly balanced in the scale of a butterfly’s wings. Somehow, these figures speak to each other, belong to each other, though they may well have been transplanted from entirely different books. When I asked him about his foam core sculptures (antennal contraptions gathering dust on top of a bookshelf, inspired by a local cable program on aliens “listening in”) or the collage poems he writes (drawing the language from a select group of books he’s kept on his drafting table for years) he chuckles at himself – it’s all jokes, you see – but this doesn’t cancel out their beauty or their seriousness. Somehow Digby interfuses radically different qualities into his art to generate a miraculous levity, an insistent thisness. Paradox defines the process itself. The animal collages – usually only a few inches square – magnify by miniaturising.  More here. [...]



Two Testimonials Shed Light on Syrian Life and Death

2017-07-22T10:13:20Z

Elisa Griswold in The New York Times: “I lived in a country where dying was taught to us from childhood,” the writer Svetlana Alexievich said in her 2015 Nobel Prize acceptance speech. “We were taught death.” Alexievich was speaking of...Elisa Griswold in The New York Times: “I lived in a country where dying was taught to us from childhood,” the writer Svetlana Alexievich said in her 2015 Nobel Prize acceptance speech. “We were taught death.” Alexievich was speaking of Belarus, where she grew up and where, during World War II, 2.2 million people died — nearly one person in four. The scale of this suffering seems impossible to fathom, numbers so large that the mind snaps shut. Yet one needn’t cast back in history for such figures. Since the war in Syria began six years ago, 6.5 million people — more than one in three Syrians — have been internally displaced, and another 470,000 are dead. Now, as the war grinds into its seventh horrifying year, literature written in English and borne out of the conflict is finally beginning to reach the rest of the world. Alia Malek’s memoir, “The Home That Was Our Country,” is one of the finest examples of this new testimonial writing. Born in Baltimore to Syrian-American parents, Malek is a journalist and attorney who landed a job in the civil rights division of the Justice Department less than a year before 9/11. Unable to endure the political climate under President George W. Bush, she quit the United States for the Middle East, where she traveled and taught human rights for the better part of a decade. Her political and cultural fluency, as well as her deep familiarity with the landscape, allow her to become “a human ear” as Svetlana Alexievich calls it, recording the tragic absurdities of daily life that give way to dark humor. On an earlier trip, she had visited southern Lebanon and toured a prison that was recently closed. Her guide, a former inmate, instructed the group’s members to cover their noses and mouths, “so as not to inhale the germs of diseases that he was convinced still lingered.” The disease that lingered, of course, was despair. She spotted a sign for the “suffering yard” — suffering, she writes, “was their translation for torture.” In April 2011, Malek moved to the Syrian capital of Damascus to report in secret for The Nation and The New York Times. The country was in the initial throes of what many hoped would become a democratic uprising born out of the Arab Spring. Yet there were already terrible signs that the regime of Bashar al-Assad wasn’t going to give up without bloody reprisals. In February, his security forces had rounded up and tortured at least 15 children for anti-Assad graffiti in their town of Dara’a. Ordinary Syrians, long oppressed by two generations of the Assad family’s brutality, were taking to the streets in protest. In an attempt to quell reports of dissent, the regime banned many foreign journalists. Malek went to work anyway. As a cover story, she tells her Syrian cousins that she’s writing a book about her maternal grandmother, Salma, the daughter of a Christian businessman, Sheikh Abdeljawwad al-Mir, born in the Ottoman Empire in 1889. More here. [...]



Deus ex machine: Social networks can’t replace religion

2017-07-21T12:28:00Z

Melanie McDonagh in The Spectator: Mark Zuckerberg says that Facebook could be to its users what churches are to congregations: it could help them feel part of ‘a more connected world’. That got a dusty response. Facebook as church, eh?...Melanie McDonagh in The Spectator: Mark Zuckerberg says that Facebook could be to its users what churches are to congregations: it could help them feel part of ‘a more connected world’. That got a dusty response. Facebook as church, eh? So the man who helped an entire generation to replace real friends with virtual ones and online communities is sounding off about people feeling unconnected? Cause and effect or what? He wasn’t quite touting Facebook as an alternative church. It is, rather, now using artificial intelligence to suggest groups that its users might join — anything from locksmiths’ societies to addiction groups and Baptist organisations — and Mr Zuckerberg is enthusing about the benefits of moving from online to offline groups: ‘People who go to church are more likely to volunteer and give to charity — not just because they’re religious, but because they’re part of a community.’ So he’s trying to get more people to join things. Only — only! — 100 million of Facebook’s two billion users belong to a group that gives them a sense of community; he wants to raise that to a billion. He’s right, obviously, about the benefits of being part of a group, from bellringers to Free Presbyterians, though it’s a bit weird for him to be evangelising for something that already exists, something that you might say is part of the human condition, given that we’re social animals. To take the most basic example, churches and parishes are ready-made communities under the noses of all of us. Just as they’re in radical decline in developed countries, Mark Zuckerberg is talking about how good it is to have a pastor looking out for your wellbeing. But it’s interesting that Zuckerberg identified the function of a church, specifically, as something that needs replicating. Churches were once the most obvious centre of any community, and at times of crisis, like after the Grenfell Tower fire, people still congregate there. But what’s now evident is that churches have other benefits. Specifically, churchgoing seems to have a bearing on the very contemporary problem of mental health. The object of going to church isn’t mental wellbeing, but it happens to be a documented side-product of ‘doing’ religion. And I don’t mean in the Alastair Campbell sense. A persistent finding in the field of mental health research for some years is that there is a beneficial effect of church attendance; religious practice, per se. It’s not about affiliation or spirituality, but about actually going to church. Including, I suppose, going to church all by yourself. More here. [...]



Researchers identify neurons important for the drive to win in mice

2017-07-21T11:03:15Z

Leslie Nemo in Scientific American: Pinpointing where motivation resides in the brain is not easy, but a research team in China may have done just that. The group isolated a small group of neurons in the brains of mice that...Leslie Nemo in Scientific American: Pinpointing where motivation resides in the brain is not easy, but a research team in China may have done just that. The group isolated a small group of neurons in the brains of mice that play a critical role in persistent behavior, according to a study published today in Science. This handful of brain cells is known as the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, or dmPFC, and it sits in a region integral for learning appropriate social behavior. When the team fired up the neurons using light, the dmPFC motivated the mice to win competitions in which they had previously lacked the will to succeed. In other words, “this might provide a new biological basis for what people call ‘grit,’” says Hailan Hu, a neuroscientist at Zhejiang University who led the research. In the case of these mice, “grit” requires upsetting hierarchies. Male mice that live together establish and maintain social rankings, Hu explains. To figure out which mice were dominant, she and her colleagues released two mice at a time into a narrow tube, one at each end. To get out, one animal—the lower-ranked individual—had to back up whereas the other, higher-ranking individual had to push forward. Most studies of mouse social hierarchy have focused on more aggressive behaviors such as how male mice might pick on new cage members, says Helmut Kessels, a neurologist at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience who was not involved with the research. “In this case it’s just four mice in a cage who live in peace,” he says, which helps strengthen the team’s argument that they were assessing motivation, not hostility. More here. [...]



Friday Poem

2017-07-21T09:46:42Z

Witness Sometimes the mountain is hidden from me in veils of clouds, sometimes I am hidden from the mountain in veils of inattention, apathy, fatigue, when I forget or refuse to go down to the shore or the few yards...

Witness

Sometimes the mountain
is hidden from me in veils
of clouds, sometimes
I am hidden from the mountain
in veils of inattention, apathy, fatigue,
when I forget or refuse to go
down to the shore or the few yards
up the road, on a clear day,
to reconfirm
that witnessing
presence

by Denise Levertov
from A Book of Luminous Things
Harvest Books, 1996
.

(image)



An Appreciation of Night of the Living Dead

2017-07-21T09:44:30Z

Nicholas Rombes at berfrois: For some students in the class, Night of the Living Dead opened the door to an angle they had not considered before: that a film could be political without being “political.” More to the point: the...Nicholas Rombes at berfrois: For some students in the class, Night of the Living Dead opened the door to an angle they had not considered before: that a film could be political without being “political.” More to the point: the most ideological films are the ones where ideology remains, on the surface, invisible. I’m not sure if we read Robin Wood’s potent essay “George Romero: Apocalypse Now” in that class or in a future one, but at some point in one of those classes we circled round to Woods’s claim that what the film is really about is subversion, the subversion of basic norms of bourgeois society. “The young people,” Wood writes, “whose survival as future nuclear family is generically guaranteed is burned alive and eaten around the film’s midpoint. The film’s actual nuclear family is wiped out; the child (a figure hitherto sacrosanct) not only dies but comes back as a zombie, devours her father, and hacks her mother to death.” This is the reading of the film as subversive and progressive, in line with most film theorists’ own politics. But the horror genre is notorious for biting back and for being wonderfully resistant to narrow political readings. In fact, you could say that far from suggesting a progressive vision, Night of the Living Dead is a conservative, even reactionary piece of work, a film where the very hope of a progressive, multi-racial future ends in violence, with a gunshot. Zombies know no politics. They are driven by unnameable, mindless desire. Through this lens, the film is yet another variation on the age-old fuck-and-die archetype, except here the codes are racial rather than sexual. For daring to “take charge” of whites in defense of civilization–for this transgression–Ben must die. more here. [...]



A Test for Consciousness?

2017-07-21T09:40:41Z

Riccardo Manzotti and Tim Parks at the NYRB: Will we ever really know what, or even where, consciousness is? Is there any way to get at it scientifically, conclusively? Week by week we hear claims from neuroscientists that would appear...Riccardo Manzotti and Tim Parks at the NYRB: Will we ever really know what, or even where, consciousness is? Is there any way to get at it scientifically, conclusively? Week by week we hear claims from neuroscientists that would appear to confirm the prevailing “internalist” view of consciousness. If the brain creates a representation in our heads of the world around us through the firing of neurons, the argument goes, then we can identify neural activity that corresponds to particular aspects of consciousness. They tell us that if this part of the brain is damaged it will affect our eyesight. If that part suffers, we will have difficulty moving through space. They show us images based on scans of electrical and chemical activity in the brain and how those images change when our experience changes. Yet there has been no progress in bridging the gap between this activity in the brain and the nature of our experience, the richness of our sensations of color, sound, touch, motion, or simply awareness. How, then, can the internalist theory be tested and demonstrated scientifically? Will it ever really be possible to prove beyond all doubt that this neural activity is our experience? And if that can’t be done, is there any proof for an alternative account of consciousness? What about the hypothesis that Riccardo Manzotti has been setting out in these dialogues, that consciousness is actually external to the body? Are there any scientific experiments that could settle this debate? more here. [...]



Ian Sansom re-reads all the novels of Jane Austen

2017-07-21T09:37:43Z

Ian Sansom at the Times Literary Supplement: “Anyone”, wrote Virginia Woolf in A Room of One’s Own, though of course she didn’t mean “anyone” but “me”, “who has the temerity to write about Jane Austen is aware of [two] facts:... Ian Sansom at the Times Literary Supplement: “Anyone”, wrote Virginia Woolf in A Room of One’s Own, though of course she didn’t mean “anyone” but “me”, “who has the temerity to write about Jane Austen is aware of [two] facts: first, that of all great writers she is the most difficult to catch in the act of greatness; second, that there are twenty-five elderly gentlemen living in the neighbourhood of London who resent any slight upon her genius as if it were an insult to the chastity of their aunts.” Times have certainly changed: chaste aunts these days are about as rare as a Bob’s your uncle and the twenty-five elderly gentlemen living in the neighbourhood of London who might resent you are now millions worldwide who will happily abuse you on Twitter. We’re all Janeites now: and if you’re not, look out. In a world – to use a phrase that might usefully serve as the introductory voice-over to the trailer for any recent Austen adaptation/biopic/retelling – in which the mute are always inglorious and fame is the only guarantee of value or quality, posterity has proved her worth. (Auden was right, as he was about most things, in “Letter to Lord Byron”: “She wrote them for posterity, she said; / ’Twas rash, but by posterity she’s read”.)  more here. [...]



Big improvements are coming to 3QD this fall, but we need your help!

2017-07-21T10:41:24Z

Dear Reader, I am happy to say that we are in the process of making major design changes to the site which will make it easier to use and add new features. The new design will also be ads-free for... Dear Reader, I am happy to say that we are in the process of making major design changes to the site which will make it easier to use and add new features. The new design will also be ads-free for subscribers and donors. Once the beta site is ready (sometime this fall), you will have a chance to give us feedback before we finalize the new design. But all of this costs money! As you know, we are able to run the site only because our regular readers support us through subscriptions or one-time payments. Whichever you'd like to do, please take a couple of minutes and use the appropriate button near the top of the left-hand column to make a generous contribution. Please do it now! If YOU don't help us, who will? Also, if you missed it, read this great profile of 3QD by Thomas Manuel in The Wire. Thank you! New posts below. [...]



Arundhati Roy: "We are all living in a graveyard of sorts"

2017-07-20T18:12:39Z

Zia us Salam in Frontline: A world wounded by aggression and inexplicable hatred could do with the welcome shade of Arundhati Roy’s works. Men and women, both in love and out of it, could do with the eloquence of her...Zia us Salam in Frontline: A world wounded by aggression and inexplicable hatred could do with the welcome shade of Arundhati Roy’s works. Men and women, both in love and out of it, could do with the eloquence of her expression. As she says early on in the much-talked-about The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, which follows 20 years after her Booker Prize-winning novel, The God of Small Things, “No matter how elaborate its charade, she recognised loneliness when she saw it.” Love, like Need, is “a warehouse that could accommodate a considerable amount of cruelty”. Welcome to the hectic world of Arundhati Roy. Never known to be a writer in an ivory tower, the image, in the past, preceded her. She was supposed to be that fiery orator who would not take any anomalies lying down. She won the Booker for The God of Small Things, but the prize came at a price. While it allowed her to plunge headlong into the socio-economic-political issues that so disturbed her equanimity, and be heard patiently and respectfully, she also evoked extreme reactions. For some, she was a brave activist (a description she does not agree with), an author who left her Booker on the mantelpiece at home and jumped into the Narmada Bachao Andolan with Medha Patkar, even giving away her prize money to the movement. Hers was a strident voice against globalisation and neo-imperialism, besides the Indian government’s nuclear and economic policies. More recently, she has been a fearless critic of the government’s policies in Kashmir and Chhattisgarh, risking the wrath of the state and the right wing alike. She has also been very vocal about the treatment of minority communities and Dalits in recent times—concerns that have found their way into her latest book as well. More here. [...]